4 insights to help you avoid failure as a leader

By david sturt and todd nordstrom
Leadership

Experts say that to perform at our highest level, we need a good night’s sleep. Come to think of it, our mothers and fathers told us the exact same thing. But, how many of us always listened to that advice? How many of us have burned the mid-night oil and still, somehow, managed to create stellar results? We’re both guilty. We bet you are too.

The same kind of advice could be said about numerous other areas of our lives that effect our work—our stress levels, fitness levels, nutritional habits, and lifestyle habits. It’s not that we don’t believe they effect our ability to perform at work, but a lot of us tend to believe we can ignore a few pieces of advice here and there and still be great at what we do.

The same could be said about time management, relationship management, and numerous other corners of our lives. For some reason, we all like to believe that we can be the exception to the rule. We can show up for the presentation unprepared and still knock it out of the park. We can have a few late nights and muscle through in the morning. And, we can skip the greens at lunch because, well, there’s always Monday to start behaving better.

Hey, as long as we keep succeeding, we can bend the rules a bit, right? Well, the truth is, at least when it comes to leading others, the answer is no. The rules don’t have so much flexibility. We’ve compiled a list of the top four insights we’ve personally seen coaching and educating leaders around the world, that when ignored can lead to failure. See whether any of them apply to you—and incorporate them into your routine to boost your personal growth and your team’s innovation, too.

1. Passion only takes you so far.

“Follow your passion and you’ll never work a day in your life.” It has a ring to it—but in our experience, it’s not the best outlook for a leader to inspire a team. Walter Isaacson, biographer of the late Steve Jobs, shared this quote from the Apple AAPL -1.18% genius: “Yeah, we’re always talking about following your passion, but we’re all part of the flow of history…you’ve got to put something back into the flow of history that’s going to help your community, help other people…so that 20, 30, 40 years from now…people will say, this person didn’t just have a passion, he cared about making something that other people could benefit from.” That is truly a remarkable statement from a man whose work continues to shape the 21st century. And—it turns out, it’s backed up by research, too. Employees of every generation report that one of their key priorities is making a difference by doing work that will leave a positive mark. And a drive to make a difference inspires 88% of innovative, award-winning work. So challenge yourself and your team members to not just find a passion, but also discover a difference to work towards—and apply the great work skills to propel the innovation that follows.

2. Build a team that’s smarter than you.

Everyone knows, either from experience or through the grapevine, that some leaders feel threatened by team members who are the best and brightest. These leaders avoid hiring people who are experts in their field so they don’t look worse by comparison. And they don’t encourage team members to work towards certifications or pick up new skills, either. But a leader who’s afraid of the team outshining him doesn’t just have a bad attitude. He also negatively affects the team’s performance. Having experts on the team shouldn’t be threatening—it’s actually an asset to everyone involved. Research shows that teams with diverse backgrounds and skill sets produce better work. It makes sense, since innovation suffers without diversity of opinion and experience. And having a high performer on the team often motivates others to produce better results. The majority of great work projects—ones that deliver a difference for the business and customers—have actually been proven to benefit from conversations between experts and innovators with varying viewpoints. So don’t be afraid of empowering each team member to be uniquely intelligent and bring it to the table. Your whole team will benefit as a result.

3. Failure is important.

It can really sting to try out an exciting, innovative idea and watch it fall flat. It’s hard to put in hours or weeks of work to achieve an end result that’s less-than-stellar—or even wildly off the mark. But you know the adage about Thomas Edison and the lightbulb. And even the author of the most successful book series ever, now one of the wealthiest women in the world, agrees that failure is a necessary part of a creative growth process. “I don’t think we talk about failure enough. It would’ve really helped to have someone who had had a measure of success come say to me, ‘You will fail. That’s inevitable. It’s what you do with it.’” J.K. Rowling shares that failure helped her learn about her own strengths and weaknesses—and forced her to keep trying until she created something truly great. So instead of being timid about failure, start embracing it. Realize that not every project will be successful from the onset, and not every solution will be easy to discover. Give yourself and your team permission to fail, and you will empower great work in the months to come.

4. People need to feel appreciated.

The number one response we receive when we share this insight is, “But, I appreciate my team.” And, that’s typically the truth. The leaders we talk to day in and day out appreciate their people immensely. The struggle we find is that their people don’t feel that appreciation. It’s not being communicated adequately. And, when employees don’t believe their leader appreciates their work, they don’t believe their effort matters. This means the employees either stop giving their all, or they choose to go somewhere where they do feel appreciated. In fact, a study conducted by HealthStream of 100,000 managers and employees revealed that 79% of people who quit their jobs cited “A lack of appreciation is a key reason for leaving.”

When it comes to leading, ignoring these four insights will lead to failure. We see it all the time. And, as far as those other pieces of advice are concerned. Well, let’s all start trying a little bit harder to get a good night’s sleep.

This post was originally published on Forbes.

Categories: Insights, Leadership

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